Policymakers seek to eliminate summer break for Michigan students

The traditional three-month summer for Michigan schools may be nearing it’s end, as the state legislature and the governor want to give schools the ability to go to what they call a balanced schedule or what many people call year-round school.

Gov. Rick Snyder and many policymakers say such a change could help eventually lead to more college graduates. Principal Kit Moran has read such studies and said the research bears them out.

“Studies have shown, that students have a starting point at the beginning of each school year to which they steadily improve as the year goes on,” Principal Kit Moran said. “However during the 11 or 12 week summer, kids lose some of that brain power, since they aren’t reading or doing math problems.”

The year-round schools schedule would have the same number of school days as a traditional school year, however it would be stretched out across a 12-month period rather than the normal nine months.

“Schools that have tested going year round had a system of nine weeks on then three weeks off, so after each quarter, you would have essentially another Christmas break,” Moran said.

While there has also been talk of increasing the number of days Michigan students have to attend school, this discussion hasn’t really gone anywhere, mainly because of the money issue, according to Moran.

“There is always someone in Lansing that says kids need to go to school longer,” Moran said. “Gov. Engler, a few years back, his goal was to get the number of school days up to 210, instead of the 175 we have now. The only problem is, how are you going to fund seven more weeks of school, because that’s seven more weeks of buses and seven more weeks of paying teachers?”

And money isn’t the only problem with this plan according to Moran.

“If I were to say, ‘Dexter is going to change to a year-round system. We’re going to be on nine weeks and off three, well, that’s good for student achievement, but what do we do about athletics,” he said. “Would that affect our testing in March? There are so many things that we structure around our school year, that it makes it difficult to make such a big change.”

Although year-round schooling or a balanced schedule may be gaining momentum in the state legislature, Moran doesn’t see this change coming to Dexter anytime soon.

“I can tell you this,” he said. “No student in the Dexter High School has to worry about going to school year round.”

Ocean Bowl squad heads to national tournament in Seattle

The dull hum of the buzzers drones as 10 high school students conjure oceanic knowledge accumulated after hours of poring over books, maps, graphs, bills, virtually anything ocean related.

This is Ocean Bowl.

Or at least it is for the DHS National Ocean Science Bowl team, which is gearing up for the national competition in Seattle, Wash. after leveling Greenhills, the defending national champions, 83-21 in the regional final on Saturday, Feb. 1 at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment building.

Senior Captain Graham Northrup along with juniors Noah Knoerl-Morrill, Alex Smearage and sophomores Will Wendorf and Ryan McGinnis nabbed Dexter’s ninth regional victory in 15 years of competition.

Adviser and science teacher  Cheryl Wells said she felt satisfied with the victory but denied any personal vendetta against Greenhills.

“No, I don’t know who told you that,” she said. “I actually have known this coach for many years, and he’s a great guy.”

But she did say she could see how other teams might misinterpret her and her team’s determination at regionals as hostility.

“What I do is when we get to regionals, my team stays focused, we’re not real friendly and we really get into that competitive mindset,” she said.

Part of Dexter’s prolonged success comes from Wells’ choice to remain vague about her success when other teams ask.

“They’ll ask me things like, ‘How does your team does so well every year?’  And I’ll say things like, ‘Oh I feed them every day after school.’”

But all jokes aside, Wells and her team train hard every year to maintain their reputation as one of the top ocean bowl teams in the region.

Wells went on, “But I don’t say, ‘Oh, well you’ve got to start practicing months in advance, and on snow days you have to go to Foggy Bottom and study, like we do.  And you have to have a book cart full of books on a wide range of subjects, and you have to do your homework at night.  And you have to be well-read.  These kids read everything–the geology, geography, the history, the marine law, the chemistry, the physics, the biology, and they’ve got to know all of it.”

Dexter has participated in the National Ocean Science Bowl under Wells’ supervision since the organization started in 1998, and its team won regionals that first year and has been to eight national competitions.

Attending the first competition sounded an alarm for Wells.

“It alerted me to the fact that we don’t live on a beach, or see a tide every day.  As a Great Lakes state, we didn’t really have the familiarity with the ocean as a lot of the coastal teams did,” she said.

To compensate, Wells said she makes sure the team is prepared for success.

According to Wendorf, “She usually reads questions and then has presentations that she’ll read off to us.  And she’ll organize the team and tell us what to read, stuff like that.”

Dexter’s team remains busy with preparing nationals.

“We’re going to keep working and studying hard on a broad range of topics,” Wells said.  “Nautical knots, reading nautical flags, nautical bell time, nautical talk, parts of a ship. It’s a wide range.”

The plethora of topics covered enticed sophomore Ryan McGinnis to join the team.  He says that participation in ocean bowl as a sophomore will have long term benefits.

“There’s a lot of information we cover that I wouldn’t come across anywhere else,” he said. “And also it’s great from a college perspective, because I want to go into oceanography. It’s invaluable because we’re going to nationals, and there will be college staff scouting out potential recruits, so it’s a really great college and beyond opportunity.”

Though the team is excited to compete at the national competition, they have already accomplished their season’s objective, according to Northrup.

“This year the goal was to win regionals,” he said.  “Anything more is just icing on the cake.”

UFOs? Whoa! (with video)

“Domed,” “oval-shaped,” “quilted surface,” “lights in the center and on each end,” “fantastic speeds,” “sharp turns,” “dive and climb,” “great maneuverability.” These are some of the words used to describe an unidentified object seen by dozens of witnesses including law enforcement on March 20, 1966 in Dexter.

That night, on Frank Mannor’s McGuinnes Road farm in northwest Dexter, in the midst of hundreds of UFO sightings in Michigan at the time, Mannor, his family and dozens of other witnesses said they saw a domed, oval-shaped object with a quilted surface actually land in a nearby swamp. According  to these witnesses, the object had lights in the center and on each end.

According to then-40-year-old Mannor, he and his 18-year-old son Ronald followed the UFO into a swampy area, but as they came closer, it slowly rose up, moved right above their heads and quickly disappeared into the night.

Just after, two officers who had not arrived on scene yet, Stanley McFadden and David Fitzpatrick, saw an object that matched the same description over Mast and North Territorial Roads in Dexter. They said it looked to be about the size of a small house, and they had never seen those types of movements on any air craft as it hovered quickly disappeared into the night moments later.

Dexter resident Louie Ceriani has lived in Dexter since 1928 and recalled the incident as exciting. He said it sparked a lot of intrigue in most citizens whether they believed in UFO’s or not.

“The excitement of all of this caused people for miles around to look skyward looking and hoping to see a UFO,” Ceriani said. “Some said they saw one but never told the press but only to their friends and that was with a smile.”

Jim Koch was a junior at Dexter High School at the time and said he felt the collective excitement that was going around town at the time.

“I remember it was a big deal at the time,” Koch said. “I was in high school at the time, and one of our favorite activities to get out of the house was to go look for UFOs.  We would cruise around the back roads and do what high school kids at the time did.”

In fact, Ceriani said people came from miles around to check out Mannor’s farm because the case got so big.

“Even professors came to Frank’s farm,” he said. “Of course, they knew better: that Frank was just making it up. But Frank stuck to his word saying he did see a UFO. The more intelligent people thought maybe Frank was a little tithed, not well-educated. The press even took pictures of Frank and his house.”

Due to the various, alleged UFO sightings in Michigan at the time, the Dexter case attracted national attention as Project Blue Book, set up by the U.S. Air Force, sent Dr. J. Allen Hynek to investigate the sighting reports.

At first, Hynek agreed that there was something going on in the Michigan skies. But after he consulted with Blue Book headquarters, he changed his mind, and said that the sightings were nothing more than swamp gas.

“Marsh gas usually has no smell but sounds like the small popping explosions similar to a gas burner igniting,” Hynek said in 1966. “The gas forms from decomposition of vegetation. It seems likely that as the present spring thaws came, the gases methane, hydrogen sulfide and phosphine, resulting from decomposition of organic materials, were released.”

With Hynek’s conclusion, the case was closed. Project Blue Book, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, was terminated Dec. 17, 1969. Of a total of 12,618 sightings reported to Project Blue Book, 701 remained “unidentified.”

Then-Sherrif Douglas J. Harvey was angry at the time due to Hynek’s conclusion. He had spent time in army bases in the swamps of Lousiana during World War 2 and claimed he had seen plenty of swamp gas before.

“That’s a pretty weak theory,” Harvey said. “I’ve seen plenty of swamp gas and this wasn’t it. We saw what we saw, all right.”

Prom moves to the Big House

What’s happening?

For about 25 years on the Friday before Prom, just under 100 prom committee volunteers flooded the halls after school, glue guns in their hands and determination in their eyes.

They had one mission: transform the whitewashed walls and tiled floors of Dexter High School into something unrecognizable, something fit to host a prom for hundreds of juniors and seniors.

And for almost a quarter of a century, they’ve succeeded with the extreme makeover. In just over 24 hours, they’ve created enchanted forests, Mardi Gras festivals and schools of witchcraft and wizardry.

But this spring, the prom committee won’t need to wield their staple guns and extension cords. Instead, breaking with tradition, the junior-senior prom will be held at University of Michigan’s football stadium a.k.a. “The Big House.”

How did it get this way?

According to student council adviser and high school teacher Al Snider, there were two major factors that led to the venue change: liability and a declining number of volunteers.

“It became harder and harder for the prom committee to make it as big as they wanted,” he said.  “I know people are busy, and the committee was having a tough time getting people to help.”

In fact, at one point a few years ago, some students were given the responsibility of a couple halls due to a lack of parent volunteers.

According to Paula Staebler, chair of the prom committee, parents are busy and oftentimes over committed, which is probably the main reason the numbers of volunteers have dwindled over the years.

“Because of the extent of time, energy, and creativity that is needed, many parents just cannot commit to such an undertaking,” Staebler said.  “A committee chair spends at least three months planning and executing their ideas, and the weekend of prom they literally spend the entire weekend at DHS.”

So, as Staebler put it, the new location will make this year’s prom “kinder and gentler for the volunteers.”

The number of volunteers was shrinking, and, although the prom committee was never actually cited by the fire marshall, the concern about liability was growing.  Sprinkler heads, fire alarms and fire extinguishers at the high school were covered up by decorations and creating a fire hazard.

And just last year there was a slight snafu in the “Nearlyweds” game room, where one of the powerstrips became overheated and started smoking.

“That really clued us and the administration in that we needed to look elsewhere because of the liability issues,” Snider said.

And so began the hunt for a new venue.  Other locations on the U of M campus such as the League and the Union, as well as Eastern Michigan and Washtenaw Community College’s new venues were all in the running before the final decision was made. Staebler said she was brainstorming with her son, junior Tristin Staebler, and one of her son’s friends, junior Chris Ryan, when having the prom at Michigan Stadium came up.

“I quickly, as we were sitting there talking, emailed the contact at the Jack Roth Stadium club,” Staebler said.  “And the idea was born.”

How is it playing out?

Despite the drastic change in venue, many of the aspects that made up former proms will still be present this spring.

For example, neither Snider nor Staebler predict that the price of $35 a ticket will change much.

According to Snider, the price has been the same for about 10 years, a factor that will be taken into consideration when deciding this year’s ticket cost.

“If it did increase, it would not increase more than $5 per ticket,” Staebler said.  “Prom ticket prices have been the same for a number of years, so an increase would not be unreasonable.” Many of the games and activities that have made an annual appearance at former proms, will also make the trip to The Big House.

“We store the poker tables and the putt-putt in the building at Creekside,” Snider said.  “We just have to trek it a little bit farther, as opposed to around the corner.”

Staebler agreed that the prom parent volunteers will try to keep the games consistent, too, in order to maintain the integrity of past proms.

“We are hoping to keep some of the same old favorites available for the students, to keep the same feel as in years past, just in a new format,” she said.

The prom will also still be theme-based. This year’s theme, decided by an upperclassmen vote,  is “Under the Stars.” However, decorations will not hang from the walls and ceilings like they have in the past, due to the same liability issues, according to Snider.

As for venues in the years to come, Staebler wants to keep her options open, but she is also considering having prom at The Big House each year.

She said, “I would like to see how it goes and possibly keep it there.”